I came to know of Maya Angelou late in her long and active life of writing (to my regret). My acquaintance with her came from the poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she wrote and recited for President Clinton’s first inaugural in 1993. That summer my mother-in-law loaned me a cassette tape of Maya’s reading of her 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I listened to the tape, which seemed an appropriate thing to do as I drove down the California coastal highway to spend a weekend visiting inmates at a State prison. I was so taken by her story, that I stopped at a beach along the way and re-wrote the message I had intended to give at the prison. Later, I bought that book and another titled, “The Poetry of Maya Angelou.” Over the last several days, Maya has been visiting with me here in my study, through her poetry. She died in May 2014 and yet she “rises” still, a “phenomenally, phenomenal woman.”
“The Caged Bird” sang in so many ways and one of the most touching ways is demonstrated in the this story. Maya was a civil rights activist and a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was assassinated on her birthday (April 4) in 1968. For many years afterward, Maya stopped celebrating her birthday, and for more than 30 years sent flowers on that day to Coretta Scott King. That story alone “sings.”
Lift up your eyes upon
the day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream….
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
That dream, for me, for you, for our country is that we, though often caged in our prejudices and narrow opinions, might still sing…
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill.
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.